April 6 (GIN)—Frightened students at Garissa University in northeast Kenya hid for what seemed like a lifetime as a small band of al Shabaab terrorists lined young people up on the floor and fired bullets into the backs of their heads.
Some were told to recite a prayer from the Koran and failure brought instant death. Others were told to call parents with their cell phones, who then heard their children being shot.The killing spree, which began at dawn at the rural university, left nearly 150 dead, both men and women, but Christian men were the favored target of the gunmen.
Stanley Muli, hiding in a wardrobe, said he wondered why army troops stationed nearby were taking so long to arrive.
“I was just praying (to) God that the (Kenya Defense Forces) would come,” he told Robyn Dixon, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times. He could hear the Shabaab fighters searching rooms and killing students.
Muli was shot in the thigh but survived the bloodletting. The government failed to protect us, he said, still in shock. “We are angry because we lost some of our best friends,” he told a reporter. “We think, ‘How come security wasn’t there when we were at the university?’”
When troops finally arrived, they surrounded the school but remained outside the school gates. They didn’t engage al Shabaab or end the killings. Government planes, when they finally arrived, carried the interior minister and police chief for a now embarrassing photo op. Journalists who drove the 225 miles to Garissa from Nairobi arrived before the special forces, who came by air.
Eleven hours after the attack was launched, a crack police squad reached the school and ended the rampage 30 minutes later.
“This is negligence on a scale that borders on the criminal,” The Nation, a local newspaper, declared in its Sunday editorial. Survivors, the newspaper said, told how gunmen, killing with obvious relish, took their time.
Another headline read, “Response Beggars Belief.”
Among the dead were three police officers and three soldiers. The four gunmen were also killed, for a total of 148 lives.
Garissa’s location, approximately 90 miles from the border with Somalia, is a clear shot from al Shabaab bases across the border. The obvious security issues troubled many students, and many were reluctant to attend the school, hoping for a place in Moi University in Eldoret, in western Kenya, but finally accepted admission to Garrissa.
“It’s like we were being experimented on,” Gideon Nyabwengi, 19, told the LA Times reporter. “When this university was being put in that place, I don’t think it was the right place.”
As news of the disaster filtered out, social media fired up. Two Twitter feeds—#GarissaAttack and #147notjustanumber—were started, providing the latest news and names and pictures of the victims. A vigil in Kenya’s Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7.
So far, 78 bodies have been identified out of the 147 that have been airlifted to Nairobi.